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Ojai History

Chumash Indians were the early inhabitants of the valley. They called it Ojai, which means “Valley of the Moon.” The area became part of the Rancho Ojai Mexican land grant made to Fernando Tico in 1837, and he established a cattle ranch. Tico sold it in 1853 to prospectors searching for oil, without much success. By 1864, the area was settled.

The town was laid out in 1874 by real estate developer R.G. Surdam and named Nordhoff, California, in honor of the writer Charles Nordhoff. Leading up to and during World War I, American sentiment became increasingly anti-German. Across theUnited States, German and German-sounding place names were changed. As part of this trend, Nordhoff was renamed Ojai in 1917.

The public high school in Ojai is still named Nordhoff High School. The public junior high school, named “Matilija,” formerly served asNordhoffUnionHigh School and still features large tiles with the initials “NUHS” on the steps of the athletic field.

The main turning point in the development of the city was the coming of Edward Libbey, early owner of the Libbey Glass Company. He saw the valley and fell in love, thinking up many plans for expansion and beautification of the existing rustic town.

After fire destroyed much of the original western-style Nordhoff/Ojai in 1917, Libbey helped design, finance and build a new downtown more in line with the contemporary taste for Colonial-Revival architecture, including a Spanish-style arcade, a bell-tower reminiscent of the famous campanile in Havana, and a pergola opposite the arcade. These buildings still stand, and have come to serve as symbols of the city and the surrounding valley. To thank Libbey for his gifts to the town, the citizens proposed a celebration to take place on March 2 of each year. Libbey declined their offer to call it “Libbey Day,” and instead suggested “Ojai Day.” The celebration still takes place, each year in October.

Libbey’s pergola was destroyed in 1971, after being damaged in an explosion. It was rebuilt in the early 2000s to complete the architectural continuity of the downtown area. The town completed a new park,CluffVistaPark, in 2002, which contains several small themed regions of nativeCaliforniavegetation..

 

Since Ojai is lined up with an east-west mountain range, it is one of few towns in the world to have a “Pink Moment” occur as the sun is setting, when the fading sunlight creates a brilliant shade of pink for several minutes on the Topa Topa Bluffs at the east end of the Ojai Valley, over 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above sea level. Nordhoff Ridge, the western extension of the Topa topa Mountains, towers over the north side of the town and valley at more than 5,000 feet (1,500 m).SulphurMountain creates the southern ranges bounding theOjaiValley, a little under 3,000 feet (910 m) in elevation.

The VenturaRiverflows through the VenturaRiverValley, draining the mountains surrounding Ojai to the north and east and emptying into the Pacific Ocean at the city of Ventura. The VenturaRiverwas once known for its steelhead fishing before Matilija Dam and Lake Casitas were constructed, eliminating habitat for this trout species.

The climate of Ojai is Mediterranean, characterized by hot, dry summers (sometimes exceeding 100°F) and mild winters, with lows at night sometimes below freezing. As is typical for much of coastal southernCalifornia, most precipitation falls in the form of rain between the months of October and April, with intervening dry summers.

Ojai Valley Museum
130 W. Ojai Avenue,Ojai,CA93023

Hours:
Wednesday: Guided Tours
Thursday – Friday: 1 pm – 4 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm
Sunday: 12 noon – 4 pm

Phone: (805) 640-1390 • Fax: (805) 640-1342

Admission:
Current Members: Free
Adults: $4.00
Children 6-18: $1.00
Children 5 & Under: Free




 

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